Clause 26 - Financial penalties

Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:45 am ar 28 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 9:45, 28 Tachwedd 2023

I beg to move amendment 165, in clause 26, page 36, line 21, leave out “£5,000” and insert “£30,000”.

This amendment would increase the maximum financial penalty that local authorities could impose on a person if it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that they have breached the requirement in Clause 24 to be a member of an approved or designated redress scheme or in instances where a property has been marketed where the landlord is not yet a member of a landlord redress scheme.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 166, in clause 26, page 36, line 22, leave out “£30,000” and insert “£60,000”.

This amendment would increase the maximum financial penalty that a local housing authority may impose on a person as an alternative to prosecution, if it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence under clause 27 has been committed.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

In precisely the same way that amendments 163 and 164, which we debated previously, sought to raise the maximum financial penalty that local authorities could levy where the provisions in clauses 9 or 10 were contravened or an offence committed, amendments 165 and 166 seek to raise the maximum financial penalty in respect of breaches relating to the requirements in clause 24 to be a member of an approved or designated redress scheme—that is, the ombudsman.

If the ombudsman is to cover all private landlords who rent out property in England, as I think every member of the Committee would wish, the penalty for not complying with mandatory membership must be sufficiently severe to act as a deterrent. We have tabled these amendments because we remain unconvinced that a £5,000 fine for a breach and a £30,000 fine as an alternative to prosecution will deter the minority of unscrupulous landlords who wish to evade regulation from failing to join. We urge the Government once again to reconsider.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, we discussed related points in earlier debates. His amendments 165 and 166 relate to the requirement for landlords to be members of the Government-approved redress scheme, which we intend to run as an ombudsman service, and a ban on marketing a property where a landlord is not registered with such a scheme. Our proposed fine regime is fair and proportionate. A £5,000 fine will be enough to deter non-compliance for most, yet fines of up to £30,000 are also possible if non-compliance continues. The legislation allows for fines to be imposed repeatedly every 28 days after a penalty notice has been issued. For repeat breaches, local housing authorities can also pursue prosecution through the court, which carries an unlimited fine. This escalating procedure gives our new ombudsman the necessary teeth for maximum compliance without making the fines unnecessarily excessive. I therefore ask the hon. Member to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I will withdraw the amendment, as I made clear, but there is a point of difference here. We do not believe these fines will be enough. I take on board, as I have previously, the Minister’s point that repeat fines can be levied. For us, these fines are important because of their deterrent effect in cautioning landlords away from ever contemplating a breach or repeat offences. The maximum fine level also has implications for enforcement more generally, which we will debate in due course. In this instance we are probing the Government on the maximum levels, so I do not intend to push the amendment to a Division.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

On a slight technicality, the Member is seeking the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment. Other members of the Committee may press it to a Division if they wish to, although in this case they do not.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.